Be a Smart Consumer

A big part of being a smart consumer is being an informed one. Follow these savvy shopping tips to protect your wallet and your privacy.   Shop wisely. Be clear about what you want and read product specifications. Marketing is geared to get you to buy so it is important to understand the product you are purchasing and the terms of the sale to ensure you are getting what you want.  Comparison shop and spend wisely. Search other websites or retailers to compare price, quality, return policies, delivery cost and speed. Buying the “cheapest” advertised price may cost you more when you factor in delivery charges in the short term or return policies in the long term.  Beware of frauds and scams. Scammers are everywhere and never miss an opportunity to make money off someone’s misplaced trust or ignorance. Always remember, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  

Online Shopping Tips

Shop on trusted sites with retailers known to you. In the era of social media marketing and influencers, consumers are more exposed to sham businesses that advertise a premier product but only deliver a low-quality version of the advertised item, if they deliver anything at all. Use caution on trusted sites that host items for third-party sellers.  Beware of third-party vendors. If redirected from a trusted site to a third-party site, read the seller’s policies, review ratings, read consumer comments and most importantly do a broad internet search before making your purchase. Trusted retailers who host third-party sellers do not warranty their sales, thus you could get a substandard product or no product at all when you take the risk and purchase from an unknown third-party vendor.  Do your research if you want to try a new site or retailer. Performing a broad internet search will provide you with important feedback from other customers. Are there any reviews? How is the company responding to its customers? Read the comments within any social media advertisements. This will help you assess what to expect if something goes wrong.  Protect your privacy. Our devices are generally defaulted to share the maximum amount of data as possible. Take precautions and make changes to your settings to limit the personal data you share.  When using credit cards to shop online, check the website’s encryption. Before entering your credit card information, make sure that the website’s address begins with “https” and that there is a closed lock or unbroken key symbol in the lower portion of your window or up on the website address bar.  Don’t keep the credit card on file for future purchases. Provide your credit card number each time you make a purchase.  Designate one credit card and one email address for online shopping. This will allow for easy review of purchases and provide protection in case of a dispute. 

Online Privacy Protection TIps

Protect your passwords. The key to safe passwords is to update them regularly and make them unique. Try using a passphrase instead of a password and include special characters and numbers. If it’s difficult to remember so many passwords, try a password manager with multi-step authentication to manage your passwords.  Avoid autofill. Saving usernames, passwords, and credit card information on your device saves time. Unfortunately, it also makes it easier for thieves to get access to that information if they access your account or device. Re-entering important information each time – as opposed to autofill – is an extra step to safeguard personal information.  Check social media logins. Many apps allow you to use your social media credential to create a new account on their platform, but when you stop using those apps, your social media accounts still have access to the information. Once a year, check the list of apps that you access through your social media account and delete any you do not recognize or no longer use.  Secure your connections. Do your shopping while connected to a secure network, rather than public WiFi or an unknown WiFi server. Public WiFi does not mask any information, even if a website or app seems secure. Usernames, passwords, credit card and account information can be easily seen by hackers who are logged into the same network. On home networks, keep operating systems and antivirus software up to date with the latest security patches and ensure the network has a strong password. 

Know Your Settings

Location, location, location. Your device will broadcast your location-unless you tell it not to. Location settings can be tricky –sometimes you may want to use apps that tell you what is around, like restaurants and addresses. However, by regularly broadcasting your location, you not only inadvertently give away your personal information, you also drain your phone battery. Check your location settings for apps and software –either turn them off or make the location only available when the app is active.  Block cameras and microphones. Cameras and microphones are a part of every phone but live independently. When you lock a phone, it does NOT lock the camera or microphone. Any apps can access either the camera, microphone or both whether or not the phone is locked. Go into your settings for each of your apps to limit or stop access to cameras and/or microphones and prevent unwanted surveillance.   Passcode protect your devices. Most people are permanently connected with their phones, tablets and other devices. But at some point, we put them down. All it takes is a few seconds for someone to grab it and take a peek. Biometrics(finger prints or facial recognition) can help with additional security. However, the key to passcodes is to make the passcode unique (rather than “1234”)and update them frequently.   Don’t become the product. Everything you do on your computer or device creates a digital imprint. That information is often compiled, tracked and sold to interested parties to better market products directly to you. This new platform can create psychological marketing plans and often get consumers to buy more than normal. You can shut this feature off for your devices. Go to your device’s main settings and look for the settings marked “Privacy.” In your “Settings,” look at the settings for each app. There are also sometimes settings within an app-particularly for social media-where there are more options for privacy within the application. For those types of apps, you should open the app and adjust those settings since those apps and software can still gather other information, even if information collection is turned off on the phone.   Check your privacy settings. Many apps, services and software have additional privacy settings, particularly those related to social media networks. To review, go into the “Settings” menu for each app, service and software program and see what “In Device” settings you can review. Review these app settings annually to catch any new setting changes. For instance, your internet and cell phone providers track your usage but sometimes you can limit what they have access to by adjusting the settings. 

Gas Saving Tips

Price Gouging

Price gouging occurs when a merchant takes advantage of an extreme weather or public health event resulting in a Governor’s State of Emergency declaration, and sells goods and/or services in the affected area to consumers for an unconscionably excessive price (NY General Business Law § 396-r). Any New Yorker who sees excessively priced consumer goods and services that are used primarily for personal, family or household purposes should file a complaint with the New York State Division of Consumer Protection. Complaints can be filed against vendors, retailers and suppliers doing business in New York State.

“Unconscionably excessive price” While the law specifically states an “unconscionably excessive price” is a question of law for a court to decide, a price is likely to be found “unconscionably excessive” if:

  1. The price being charged by the seller during the extreme weather or public health event is grossly greater than the price charged immediately prior to the onset of the extreme weather event by that same seller.
  2. The price being charged during the extreme weather or public health event grossly exceeds the price for the same or similar goods and services readily obtainable in the affected area by other consumers.

Price Gouging Examples

A: Hotels in the area within a Governor’s State of Emergency typically offer rooms in the price range of $79 - $159 a night during the spring season. After the storm event, Hotel X, which normally offered rooms for $119 a night increased its prices to $229 a night. An approximately 90% increase in price affords Hotel X the opportunity of extreme profits under severe circumstances.

B: Local hardware store sold 50lb bags of sand for $25 prior to the storm. A Governor’s State of Emergency was put in place. The local lake began rising, flooding surrounding homes, and the same bags of sand were now selling for $50 a bag, double the price. The big box store 10 miles away continued to offer the bags of sand for $25. Hotel X and the local hardware store appear to be engaged in price gouging.

Consumer Response to Price Gouging If you are in a Governor declared State of Emergency affected community and see or personally experience price gouging, the Division encourages you to report it by filing a complaint. When reporting, be prepared to provide details of the alleged price gouging to include the location of the merchant and any available proof of the excessive price(s), such as receipts or pictures. The Division’s Consumer Assistance Unit will review the complaint, and if appropriate engage in voluntary mediation on behalf of the consumer, or refer the complaint to the Office of Attorney General to initiate an enforcement action. In either instance, the Division will keep the consumer informed of all actions taken on their behalf.